10 May 2010

Spiritual Equilibrium

by Phil Johnson

I Walk the Line
A Balanced Plea for Balance

(First posted 3 January 2007)

cripture says, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There's an equilibrium to be maintained in true spirituality, and it's only our sinfulness that makes us become unbalanced in one direction or the other.

The obedience God demands requires our implicit compliance to all of His revealed Word, and He expressly commands us "not [to] turn aside to the right hand or to the left." (Deuteronomy 5:24). The way of truth is well worn (Jeremiah 6:16) but narrow (Matthew 7:14). There are dangerous ditches on both sides of it, and we are so prone to waywardness that we need constant checks to keep from veering off track to one side or the other (Isaiah 30:21). We sometimes have to fight to keep our balance. In the words of Hebrews 4:11, we have to labor to enter into rest.

But balance is a tricky word. Mention it in connection with truth or spirituality, and people tend to think of a board balanced on a fulcrum, like a seesaw on the playground. If you move to one side, that end goes down, and if you move to the other end, that end goes down. We all learned as children that the only way for just one person to play on a teeter-totter is to get in the middle and stand with one foot on one side and one on the other and balance the board that way.

I'm afraid too many people take that approach with the problem of discerning truth. They take a dialectical approach, where you resolve every issue by seeking the middle ground between two opposing extremes—as if you could combine an erroneous thesis and its equally erroneous antithesis and come up with a synthesis that is somehow true.

It's not particularly helpful to think in such terms. While it's true that errors often exist at opposite extremes on both sides of any given truth, you can't necessarily find the truth by starting with opposite errors and searching for the via media between them.

I'm always a bit wary of people who seek the middle of the road on every issue. Have you noticed, for example, that whenever the doctrine of election or the question of human "free will" comes up, someone will invariably declare that he (or she) holds a position that is neither Calvinist nor Arminian but is squarely in the middle of those two "extremes"? A lot of people seem to imagine that there is some safe, logically-coherent, middle-road position where divine sovereignty and human responsibility essentially cancel one another out.

Let's be honest: That claim is often employed in an effort to stop meaningful discussion rather than advance it. Many people who take that approach simply don't want to work through the difficulties posed by the tension between the gospel call and the sinner's inability, or between God's absolute sovereignty and His wrath against sin. They imagine that if they take a position in the middle of the road and cover their eyes, they can simply avoid all such problems altogether.

That's not a biblical way of thinking. Scripture (as well as true Calvinism) stresses both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The truth is not a midway point where neither emphasis is taught at all, but a balanced doctrine where both sides of the truth are fully stressed.

The balance between Christian liberty and godly living is also like that. Don't look for a comfortable midway point between legalism and license. There is no safe "middle road" between legalism and license. In fact, legalism and license often go hand in hand and are found together, because they stem from the same wrong view of sanctification. Legalism is often a smoke screen for carnal living.

But New Testament sanctification properly stresses both liberty and love for Christ; both freedom from the law and freedom from sin; both emancipation from the bondage of our sinful flesh and slavery to righteousness as the only way to enjoy our new life in the Spirit.

Most Christian doctrines achieve balance in a similar way. Forget the midway point on a continuum, the fulcrum on a teeter-totter, and the yellow stripe in the middle of the road. When we speak of balancing these two truths, the idea is more like two oars on a rowboat. Try to paddle a typical boat with the paddle on one side only, and you will just go around in circles without making any progress. The harder you row with one oar, the faster and tighter your circles will be.

You'll never get anywhere spiritually unless you put both oars in the water.



Phil's signature

92 comments:

Alan Kurschner said...

"I'm always a bit wary of people who seek the middle of the road on every issue. Have you noticed, for example, that whenever the doctrine of election or the question of human "free will" comes up, someone will invariably declare that he (or she) holds a position that is neither Calvinist nor Arminian but is squarely in the middle of those two "extremes"?"

And these same people, without exception, when pressed, will always fall on the side of Arminianism, revealing that they never were in the "middle" to begin with.

Chris said...
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Chris said...

The rowboat metaphor works on yet another level with your post, as true balance--biblical balance--means leaving the shore or the shallows for the deeper waters!

As you pointed-out, gaining a true understanding of a doctrine such as election and/or true Calvinism requires some hard work on our part--studying to show ourselves approved, and critically thinking about what we study! Combined with our responsibility is God's sovereign, overarching role in our ultimate understanding of this vital doctrine. Even though God's sovereignty determines what we will know, we still need to study it, think hard about it, and pray diligently that the Spirit of God will open our eyes to the truth regarding it. The balance occurs when we firmly take our stand on one side or the other, having ruled-out hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism in order to plant ourselves firmly in a true understanding of Calvinism to which we can commit ourselves and declare a distinction. It is not simple and it is not easy, as you explain so clearly in this post Phil, but it is worth every bit of the mental and spiritual labor in the end! We need both oars in the water to avoid going in circles, and we need both oars to take us out deep where we need to go in maturity.

True balance is also not cowardly compromise by any stretch when it comes to practical application, nor should it be used as a smokescreen for that particular sin that so many postmodern "milksop" evangelicals like to practice today. There are those professing believers who love to go around saying "balance" or "nuance" when they are simply opting-out of their Christian duties or not giving biblical responses when scripture is absolutely clear on a matter. I wish they would just admit that they hate definitions and hard decisions. I wish those of this ilk who have positions of authority in the church would just admit that they wish they were politicians and not pastors, etc.

Zaphon said...

Alan, I was thinking the exact same thing as I read this post. Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free, case in point.

We've all had a misguided friend or foe who has said "well, I'm neither Calvinist nor Arminian...I'm a BIBLICIST!"

Zaphon said...

That tag line now has me listening to Johnny Cash...(in Johnny Cash voice) "I walk the Line...I walk the Line..."

Sorry...just had to share that.

:-)

Zaphon said...
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J♥Yce said...

Loved it, Phil. Begin and end with the "plumb line" absoluteness of God's Word and eliminate the back-forth and to-fro toss methodology of teetering/ tottering unstableness...or sitting in the "will it go round in circles?" rowboat.

(kinda sorta not really off topic...Sifting and sorting "to read" desk "stuff" this past week found me poring over a print of Spurgeon's sermon, How to Read the Bible. Aptly...richly correlates. Thanks for sharing that, too.)

Chris said...

Zaphon,

Funny you should mention J. Cash, as I must admit that I've been listening to three great Gospel-centered songs of his lately: "Gospel Road," "Belshazzar's Dream," and "He Turned the Water into Wine"

Good Stuff; no "walking the line" with these! I never knew Cash sang songs like these until recently.

Chris said...

correction: meant to say two Gospel-centered songs and one O.T. song (-:

Robert said...

Chris,

I was thinking the exact same thing. Unfortunately, America has become a nation of people who want to be told what to believe instead of doing the hard work it takes to know the truth and apply it. I think this is what has lead to the postmodern philosophy because peopel are too lazy to go read and find the truth so as to dispute postmodern thought. That is why this blog is refreshing...most people who post comments here take the time to read, study, pray, and humbly submit to God's will. Granted, we're far from perfect, but thank God for the grace He has shown for giving us the will to be faithful.

Matt said...

Great Post, my heart indeed. So often when I get into "friendly discourse" over some of the issues of election, sovereignty, and free will, I get exasperated because of the perception so many people have of the Calvinist doctrine. The Bible says that I am dead, His Grace elected me, His mercy gave me faith, and He commands me to be separate in Holy living. Thanks for your post!
Matt

~Mark said...

Great reminder pastor Phil!

I see this battle a lot in people who want to be crushing opponents ALL the time and others who think we should loving coddle opponents ALL the time.

Somehow both forget that Jesus didn't overturn tables every week nor sweetly usher people into repentance every time.

Chris said...

Robert: So true indeed brother! What you say is so accurate, having witnessed it firsthand with false teachers at wayward churches in the past (until we arrived at our wonderful church 2 years ago), with countless apostate heretics at a supposedly Christian College where I was employed for a time, and with a "Christian" school where we sent our daughter for a time--a place that really just amounted to being a conservative, patriotic school. Of course, these are fine social qualities, but not when they replace the gospel and not worth the money we spent. In our final meeting with the principal of that school, he made it his duty to attempt to "teach" us the value of "nuance" and "balance" as he defined these terms, which was no balance at all, but rather just postmodern imbalance and wordplay on the side of compromise, pragmatism, and liberal theology.

Gov98 said...

I agree with the general point of this point, although I take odds with the tenor.

From the outsidish looking in, if Calvinism is defined as the Biblical way between God's sovereignity and human responsibility then yes by definition Calvinism will be thoroughly Biblical.

I suppose though that for other people to actually believe that Calvinism is the Biblical way, maybe Calvinists should show how it is that they actually occupy the Biblical way.

I remember when Dan did a series on "Choice thoughts on Choosing." Which was very helpful and I believe extremely right on.

Sovereignity is True, Human Responsibility is True.

It sounds a lot like people who claim Calvinism (as though an ism like I am of Paul I am of Apollos is a great foundation to start from anyway) is this Biblical middle way do an awful lot to leave people with the impression that it is not.

And why then...does a fight need to be had over Calvinism, when we can just scrap the name and get back to Biblical Christianity, which does in the same inspiration state that "No one can be plucked out of his hand." AND "Do not harden your hearts as your fathers did at Meribah."

Chris said...

Gov98: Here is my measly attempt at answering your question, knowing that many here could do far better job: a) Calvin, as with the Westminster Confession, articulated the points of Calvinistic thinking so clearly and accurately--right from the scripture, after much diligent work and critical thinking. Of course, with the WC, these conclusions were drawn from countless hours of discussion and hard debate (I'd personally say Arminian thinking doesn't have nearly the pedigree, nor the depth of hammered-out plunging into scripture); b) The implications, in so many other key doctrines beyond election, of adopting an Arminian perspective (as opposed to a more limited and/or responsible use of the word "responsibility") are too great and far reaching. I'd say to the point of injuring our understanding of God's magnanimous sovereignty in all of life.

--just a layman's thoughts.

Gov98 said...

Chris:

My brother is a presbyterian, where as I attend a church that aligns with the distinctives of Baptists. He often refers me back to the Westminister Confession, which is all fine and well, but I have little interest in what I far off confession says. The problem I see it, is in definition of terms.

Why for example does someone get to term "Calvinism" as BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY. When I could define Calvinism as an infant baptising state church that got way off in certain areas.

Instead the "general" understanding I think is that most people hear Calvinism and sense stressing God's sovereignity to the exclusion of man's responsibility, and armininism as stressing man's responsibility to the exclusion of God's sovereignity, both are incorrect, but as far as the terms are used in language today, that's the perception I have of most who call themselves Calvinists and most who call themselves Arminianists, and who then is responsible for that?

Chris said...

Gov98: good points. However, at the risk of sounding too simplistic, I have yet to speak with nor read an Arminian who holds a view of God (His sovereignty) that I find acceptable enough. I'm not questioning their love for God nor whether or not they are true believers necessarily. I'm not even doubting that they have a high view of God; however, the begging question I find myself asking whenever I speak with or read an Arminian about any number of other topics beyond election (whether or not they even call themselves by that label or even know they are Arminian) is this: "why is man so much larger in your estimation than he ought to be, and God so much smaller?" That to me is Arminianism, and the name merely helps clarify a large body of beliefs..just as Calvinism merely provides a label for a larger body of beliefs. We are human and limited; thus, labels are necessary tools for discourse just as my fingers are not strong enough to loosen a nut and bolt without a wrench. The key is a matter of being honorable and responsible before God in our definitions. I believe those men at the WC did just that to draw their conclusions, and I build their conclusions into my own.

Solameanie said...

I'm afraid too many people take that approach with the problem of discerning truth. They take a dialectical approach, where you resolve every issue by seeking the middle ground between two opposing extremes—as if you could combine an erroneous thesis and its equally erroneous antithesis and come up with a synthesis that is somehow true.

Word! This should be made into a billboard and posted along interstate highways nationwide.

Chris said...

Gov98:

Given what I've just said, I think it is important to say that while the debate is vitally important, responsibility ought to be exercised when we/I talk about the faults of Arminians. It is not as though we are talking believers and unbelievers--about true evangelicals of different stripes and those who embrace liberal theology within the Anglican or Methodist denominations. No, there is much in common between Arminians who love Christ and Calvinists who love Christ, which is probably why the distinctions are harder to hammer-out for people. It is much the same way as differences between siblings in the same family run much deeper and more emotional than they do with co-workers. To use labels in an irresponsible manner, of which I know occurs often, is yet a clear manifestation of Phil's post about the work it takes to understand balance correctly and not being irresponsible...even sinful.

Chris said...

Didn't mean to limit that last comment to Anglicans and Methodists within liberal denominations; they were just the first tow that came to mind (-:

gymbrall said...

In other breaking news, lukewarm water does not possess the best properties of both hot and cold.

Good post. It's amazing how hard it is for us to wrap our head around basic facts.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

I like your word "tension" rather than balance, or to risk sounding Barthian, the term "dialectic."

Gov98 said...

Chris - I think you're exactly right. And as far as it goes I think Calvinists have a stronger position in most areas as well as far better theological development so I understand the affinity.

stratagem said...

Have you noticed, for example, that whenever the doctrine of election or the question of human "free will" comes up, someone will invariably declare that he (or she) holds a position that is neither Calvinist nor Arminian but is squarely in the middle of those two "extremes"? ...(continuing on to end of paragraph).

I confess! I have been that person right here on the good old Pyro blog.
However, after listening to some of your (Phil's) sermon podcasts on Calvinism, I now see the error of my ways. And, I know what the heck you are referring to in this passage.

word verification: hydawaysi

Citizen Grim said...

Spurgeon himself makes a similar statement, saying:

"I beseech you to look at the two texts which are together before us, and to be prepared to receive both sets of truths. I think it a very dangerous thing to say that the truth lies between the two extremes. It does not: the truth lies in the two, in the comprehension of both; not in taking a part from this and a part from that, toning down one and modulating the other, as is too much the custom, but in believing and giving full expression to everything that God reveals whether we can reconcile the things or not..."

From his sermon "The Father's Will" excerpted on Team Pyro last year.

Robert said...

What I find upsetting about people getting caught up in the labels is that people take them and run way off into left field with them. When I married my wife, she, her two boys, and her mother moved about 1,000 miles so we could be together. The pastor at her sister's church (SBC church back where they moved from) delivered a message about Calvinism. The result was that her family thought I moved them all out here and got them into a cult because we teach from the Bible, which affirms the five points of Calvinism.

The sad thing is that Calvin would most likely would not have wanted his name used in such a manner. We're talking about a guy who, in the terms of his will, requested that he be buried in an unmarked grave.

Stefan said...

Chris:

And to add a further wrinkle, there are a few Calvinistic Anglicans—especially among those who've been forced to split ways with their liberal counterparts.

(There may even be some Calvinistic Methodists, but that could only be if they disagree with their fundamental denominational distinctive!)

Paul said...

Sola,

You're a fast reader! I'd need one of those billboards placed at a stop light.

David Rudd said...

Robert.

you wrote, "because we teach from the Bible, which affirms the five points of Calvinism."

i think you mean, "because we teach the Bible, from which come each of the five points of Calvinism."

it's a subtle distinction, but one which explains why some people stumble over the label...

culgurl95 said...

Absolutely applicable to my life right now. I'm battling with legalism and deprivation of complete dependency, praying to God, etc.

donsands said...

"..both emancipation from the bondage of our sinful flesh and slavery to righteousness as the only way to enjoy our new life in the Spirit."

Nice.

I actually almost lost my Equilibrium today when I was carrying a 32 foot ladder on the job site when the wind gusted.

But I regained my balance, whew! And I thank the Lord for that.

And I thank the Lord for your post. Good spiritual food.

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness." And since I have become a slave to righteousness, and the power of sin was crushed, this is exactly what I long to do. Yet I am not seeking righteousness as I should, and need to continue to grow in my faith.

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Mark B. Hanson said...

Dunno, Phil - every time I read DOJC's missives I feel like I have been sucked into that Robin Williams Popeye movie, where Pop Oyl's constant refrain was, "You owe me an apology."

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Carlo Provencio said...

... "true calvanism", what's that?

Disciple of Jesus Christ said...
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DJP said...

From this thead:

Now, DOJC, the expiration of your temporary ban is moved to 5/11/10, as explained in this thread.

Keep violating it, and it will be made permanent.
*****

That was five violations ago.

You are now permanently banned, DOJC.

Disciple of Jesus Christ said...
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Chris said...

Dan:

Have you guys ever established a permanent ban from the blog for someone? I think it is indeed high time for such a move with regard to dojc, a character whose comments are essentially as poisonous as the venom of asps! Pray for his quarrelsome and divisive soul!

gapid said...

thanks for your insightful post.

rather than trying to take a little from this extremism and a little from that opposing extremism, it's best to humbly focus on teaching what's excellent for everyone, which is the gospel. arguments and foolish controversies about the law are both unprofitable and useless.

Chris said...

beat me to the punch Dan! Thanks!

Carlo Provencio said...

does God want me to label myself "Calvanist"?

For some reason I just can't bring myself to label myself anything other than Christian. Is there something wrong with me?

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Seth Benge said...

"He is of peace, always"
lol

Disciple of Jesus Christ said...
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Disciple of Jesus Christ said...

OK. If you insist to ban me, although you have no justification for that, please show me how I can contact brother John MacArthur online, because I want to ask him some questions directly. :)

Thank you.

John said...

I was at the wonderful Maple Street Bookshop in NOLA this weekend. Their slogan is "Fight The Stupids." I will now use excercise my utmost restraint not to make an uncharitable comment on DOJC's belligerence.

Carlo Provencio said...

I ask in all sincerity, hopefully someone can answer.

I know my question is kind of off topic, but I figure you guys would be the ones to ask!

John said...

beligerence, even.

Phil Johnson said...

Disciple:

I absolutely concur with DJP's decision to ban you permanently. If you want to appeal that decision, give it a rest for a month, and then contact me privately before posting again.

That's it. Anything you post from now on will be summarily deleted until you comply precisely with the clear instructions you have been given.

Chris said...

Carlo:

I hear what you are saying, and I struggled with the same question at one point. However, as I mentioned earlier in my comment (to Gov98), the label is not an end unto itself. Rather, it is merely an identification marker of a larger framework of ideas/beliefs that he--among so many others--put to words very nicely and succinctly. For that matter, you could call the same affirmations "Westminster Confessionalism," which would then simply reflect an affirmation of what that large body of men accomplished over many hours of discussion and debate they had during those countless sessions in Westminster Abbey in london. As it was duly stated by Robert that Calvin himself requested to be buried in an unmarked grave, he would be the first to dispel any notion that people are following Calvin; Calvinists just love the truths from scripture he expressed with such conviction and clarity, as has every true teacher of God's truth. It is only about Christ, and Calvin would be the first to insist upon that. I hope this helps, as it sounds like you wouldn't want to put anything before Christ. Affirming the truths of Calvinism, thus calling yourself a Calvinist if you do, takes nothing away from your love of Christ, but rather only strengthens it. As I mentioned earlier, labels are only a means to an end for us fallen people (a tool of communication and understanding). The infinitely more important end is our future glorification in Christ, with ol' John Calvin himself, as we worship the throne. I for one will thank him for helping me along in my understanding of the truth in this life because the Lord knows I need it.

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Chris said...

Those here at Pyro who know more of Calvin's bio can elaborate on the unique and distinct role God gave to Calvin.

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Carlo Provencio said...

thanks Chris

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donsands said...

does God want me to label myself "Calvanist"?

If it helps others know where you're coming from.

I usually tell others who meet me that I'm reformed. I'm a Baptist reformed dude though.

And if they say, "Oh, you're a Calvinist."
I say, "Sure, you can call me that if you like. I'm not an Arminian, if that's what you're getting at."

And these kind of conversations just seem to be part of life.

They can be okay, and even pleasant. And they can be awkward and even cause friction.

It is what it is.

It took me some time to learn all this.

Keep on in the Lord and His gospel, whether Reformed or non-Reformed.

gapid said...

chris wrote:"why is man so much larger in your estimation than he ought to be, and God so much smaller?" That to me is Arminianism.

chris, you've raised an excellent point - man should never think so highly of himself or belittle God. God will choose who he chooses according to his mercy (Romans 9:15-18), and anyone who believes in God will have ever-lasting life (John 3:16).

the arminians i have talked with don't typically think so highly of man and so little of God. they think God would be unjust to damn non-elects with nary a chance to respond to his gospel.

Stefan said...

Labels have been discussed from time to time here in the past. It would be pious to say that we are completely above labels: after all, even "Christian" and "Evangelical" are labels, and have precise meanings based on their etymologies (even if the origins of these labels don't seem to have any meaning for many people today).

As a shorthand, "Calvinist" or "Reformed" works for me, with the proviso that these are simply convenient labels for someone who affirms the sovereignty of God, especially as that is worked out in the doctrines of grace.

In a setting or environment where labelling oneself a "Calvinist" or "Reformed" upfront may do more harm than good (due to ill-informed preconceptions), it may be better to show by our love of the Gospel and our faithfulness to Scripture what we mean by these labels, rather than coming right out and using them.

And we should not allow our choice of labels to drive our theology, but rather allow our theology to drive our choice of labels.

Michael said...

Carlo, it might also help to reflect that while Paul said,

1Co 3:4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
1Co 3:5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.

He was also happy to say,

1Co 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

I think it is in the spirit of the latter, rather than the former, that we might identify ourselves as Calvinists, when that may convey helpful information.

God Bless,
Michael

Johnny Dialectic said...

the arminians i have talked with don't typically think so highly of man and so little of God.

Exactly right. Thank you.

they think God would be unjust to damn non-elects with nary a chance to respond to his gospel.

Rather than being what we think, we believe the biblical view is that God's holiness and justice, not to mention explicit scriptural statements, demonstrate clearly that Christ indeed died for all. And that's with both oars in the water!

donsands said...

I need to keep a close watch on this heart of mine.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7K4jH7NqUw

christianlady said...

I'm always thinking about balance, but what I mean is in my own reaction to things around me. When do I point out error? When do I shut my mouth? When do I think a little longer and check to see if my internal reaction is emotion based verses biblically based? Coming from a church with "seeker friendly" motivation...missional etc...and coming out of it has made me not trust my own perspective. I can be deceived. So, I have to keep a balance in that I need to research when a pastor is speaking and check him against the bible before I just to conclusions. Also, I think trying to figure out motive is often my human error. If the pastor is preaching a wrong doctrine judging motive really isn't the point, the motive can be one that seems good but the doctrine can be wrong.

You are right though about middle ground. Either someone is right or they are wrong. This middle stuff doesn't work.
Thank you for writing this, I need to read through it again.
Blessings!

Robert said...

I'm not trying to start a fight, but I saw the words "Christ indeed died for all" and it brings me to a question that has stuck in my mind. If Jesus's death on the cross was for all, then how can anybody go to hell? If He satisfied God's wrath for everybody already, then how do people go to hell? That just doesn't make sense.

Now, the thing to keep in mind is that we do not know who the elect are...we can't walk down the street and tell who God has chosen and who He has not. Just look at Paul (Saul of Tarsus at that time) before he was converted.

Do we have the responsibility to repent when God gives us the grace gift of faith? Yes. But even that comes from the regenerate work of the Holy Spirit...and that work was determined before time began. God didn't have to see which of us would accept the grace gift...He is not dependent upon us in any fashion whatsoever. If we say that Jesus died for all and it is up to the decision of the sinner to see if His work is effectual in their life, then we make God dependent upon man. To me, there is not way of getting around that.

Sorry if I hijacked the post into territory that was not intended for travel. I was lead by my convitions (and a love for the grace of God), though.

Thom said...

Robert you seem to be making an argument that everyone is going to heaven as a result of the cross. I hope that type of universalism is not your position. I believe we will never fully understand the mystery of election and free will and can only gauge/judge a believer by his actions and even then with the understanding that only God truly knows the heart. After all many "good" people end up in hell.

Chris said...

Thom: With all due respect, from the rest of Robert's post, it is pretty clear he has a good grasp of, and love for, God's sovereignty and grace. He is not making an argument, nor does he seem to be espousing any sort of universalism; he just asks the question every Calvinist has had to ask at some point when they became serious in their examination of the doctrine of election (among other doctrines of grace).

Robert: "Christ died for all" (of those people who were called according to His purposes, before the foundation of the world, and who will reveal their effectual calling by responding to his gracious mercy in salvation). It is both vastly and infinitely complex, yet quite simple on another level--if that makes any sense.

Robert said...

Chris, Thom:

Sorry if I was vague, but I was in fact replying to a comment that another person made where they stated "Christ died for all". I firmly believe in limited atonement. The thing we have to keep in mind, though, is that God is the one who has set the limits. And we don't get to peek in and see who the elect are, but just be grateful that He chose to save us.

There is so much more to this that would take too much time and space. I certainly doubt that was the intent of Phil when he put his article on here.

Chris said...

Robert: Makes more sense now ( -:

Thom: please disregard o - :

Johnny Dialectic said...

Robert:

If Jesus's death on the cross was for all, then how can anybody go to hell? If He satisfied God's wrath for everybody already, then how do people go to hell? That just doesn't make sense.

That's because you have only one oar in the water, a flat wooden oar cut from a Calvinist tree. Your system forces you to take the plain meaning of Scripture and paddle away from it.

Rom. 5:6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Where is the limitation here? Why doesn't it say "for some of the ungodly"? But your system pulls you away and makes you think that if Christ died for all, no one should go to hell.

Why do you limit the sovereignty of God? Why can't God require a condition on the part of man?

Chris said...

Very Cool, Johnny! You take the rowboat metaphor out into even deeper water! "One oar cut from a Calvinist tree"... I love that!

Also, regarding your answer, I couldn't agree more! However, I do think Robert embraces God's sovereignty though.

bp said...

Johnny, it might help to look at who the "we" are in "when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."

Rom 5:1 Therefore since we have been justified..we have peace with God...2Throught him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand and we rejoice.. (there's a pattern) here…8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us…(I'm sure you get the picture)

Gov98 said...

BP -

You may not realize it, but you may be making Johnny's point. To maintain the position you suggest it really should say "Christ died for "us"." But it doesn't. Paul is using we's but then switches to a generic "ungodly."

bp said...

yes, he does switch to "Christ died for the ungodly," but it's pretty clear who the ungodly are that he's talking about..For while "we" were weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.

Then it goes on to show again who he died for: 8But God shows his love for us in that while wel sinners he died for us.

Starting from the beginning of the chapter it's we/us/we/us all the way.

bp said...

Johnny, you said, "Why doesn't it say "for some of the ungodly"? I've got a question for you: Why doesn't it say "for all of the ungodly"?

Gov98 said...

BP-

Your clarity is based upon the supposition you already have, not the clarity of that text.

Johnny Dialectic said...

I've got a question for you: Why doesn't it say "for all of the ungodly"?

It does. There is no limitation on the plural.

Certainly you believe that when it says God will judge "the world" (3:6), it means all the world, yes? But "all" is not there. It's not needed.

Robert said...

Johnny,

First, let me state that I am only trying to speak the truth in love, but I can not let the portrait that you paint go without making a defense. Otherwise, all people reading this will paint those with similar beliefs as blind people just following "Cavinism". I would state that I follow the Bible and that the Bible teaches the same five points that people used from Calvin's teaching to defend against the claims of Arminius.

With that said, I must say that my statement/beliefs have nothing to do with one oar in the water...it has to do with the clarity of the Bible. I didn't choose to believe limited atonement...I railed against predestination most of my life until God put it upon my heart to study Scripture. And I would say that we are supposed to interpret Scripture in light of Scripture. Which means that, just as bp is trying to show, when there are limiting points (we instead of the world), we have to use them to clarify the points that are more vague.

I think it is pretty funny to say that I had a Calvinist bent before reading Scripture. I would say that NO person would embrace predestination upon their own determination. It goes against our nature as fallen humans to think that we don't have a part in our own salvation. That is why a pastor in my hometown was kicked out of his church for preaching through Romans...when he got into chapter 8 (around verse 29) they told him to stop preaching Romans or to skip ahead. He didn't and they fired him.

Why do you only take Romans 5:6 without looking at the whole passage of Romans 5 and see what Paul is talking about here? Starting at verse 1..."since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy spirit who has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would even dare to die - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received reconciliation." (Romans 5:1-11)

So you are going to tell me that after sorting through the 22 forms of the inclusive pronouns of we, us, our, etc., and try to say that they do not shape the statement made in 5:6? The point that Paul is trying to make through the early part of Romans is that everybody is ungodly and there is nothing special about us that made God save us (Jews or Gentiles). We have NO saving grace in and of ourselves. Have you considered that in Ephesians 2:8 that Paul says that even our faith is a grace gift from God? And without that faith, there is no way that anoybody is going to choose to repent and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord.

I again apologize if this has gone way off topic (or maybe not). I hope that this is edifying, though.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Robert, then how do you explain John specifically going from the "exclusive" to the "inclusive" in 1 John 2:2:

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

At some point, you have to let the Scriptures on the atonement speak plainly. Limiting the atonement is one of the worst theological mistakes one can make. John Calvin himself did not make it. He taught the universality of the atonement. "Christ suffered sufficiently for all men, but effectually for His elect alone...It is also a fact, without controversy, that Christ came to atone for the sins of 'the whole world.'" (see Calvin, "A Treatise on the Eternal Predestination of God" p. 165)

We leave aside the question of Calvin's consistency here, but Calvin does answer your original question, viz., if the atonement is unlimited, how is it that any go to hell? Calvin would answer with the "effectual call." I would not, but that's another question entirely.

But the main point is, do not limit the atonement. Scripture doesn't, and neither should we.

Robert said...

Johnny,

I will explain John 2:2 and how it applies to limited atonement for you. John had an audience that would have been predominantly Jewish as he was an Apostle to the Jews. When John said Jesus was the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, he was emphasizing that this was not limited to the Jews alone. In fact if you back up to 1 John 1:7 you will read the following:
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." So Jesus's blood only cleanses the people who are saved from all sin.

Once again, we have to get the context and read a whole passage instead of just one verse. There is a real danger in trying to stand upon a verse here or there without looking at the context.

bp said...

I've got a question for you: Why doesn't it say "for all of the ungodly"?

(Johnny:
It does. There is no limitation on the plural.

Certainly you believe that when it says God will judge "the world" (3:6), it means all the world, yes? But "all" is not there. It's not needed.
)

Yes, “the world” here means all the world. Yet here: I am praying for them. I am not praying for “the world” but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. Here “the world” does not mean all the world.

A good rule is, if it doesn’t specify, look at the context (us/we/us/we/us/our/we/us…)

Johnny Dialectic said...

Well, that's just too much importation for me, Robert. There is nothing in the text, or context, that supports your presuppositions. Not even Calvin took to eisegesis for this verse. There's nothing I can add to the scriptural case here, so thanks for the discussion.

bp said...

hmm..k, I realized that technically "all the world" could work there, but still...Luke 2:1 and John 12:19 and so forth...